Saturday, June 12, 2010

Writing For the Masses

I recently finished Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism and decided I wanted to write a review of it for Associated Content.  I figured this might be the place to get the biggest audience of people who would never seek this book out on their own.  There's one problem, though: How do you write a review for the masses about a subject that most people have either no knowledge of or are totally misinformed about?

It is a lot harder than it sounds.

A vast majority of people get their views on anarchism strictly from the local news, which has never covered it correctly.  Even those in unions, which exist thanks to the past fights of the anarchists, have little knowledge of their group's anarchist roots.  Combine that with a nearly 400 page academic book and you have a situation where you almost can't write for a general audience.

I want the review to make the book sound appealing to those who would never consider reading it.  People interested in anarchist politics would have either already read it, or they would have it on their radar.  That isn't the audience I want.  I want the people whose knowledge of books is what they see in Borders.  So, in order to do that, I have the write the review as simple as possible (no detailed analysis of issues such as the role of gender in anarchist movements in Japan in the 1930s), while at the same time making sure the book's complexity is highlighted as to not mislead anyone.  I have to write the review to ensure that anyone who reads it and would be remotely interested in the subject matter will want to keep the book on their radar.

It's not often where you see books this specialized reviewed in venues that are designed to appeal to general audiences.  Usually they are given page space in journals and on specialized web sites.  That's because of the difficulty in writing such a review for general audiences.  It is almost an exercise in failure, and nobody wants to pay for that.  Luckily, Associated Content pays by page views, so it is up to the author to make his or her work appealing enough to get paid.

I don't know if I'll succeed.  I have a rough draft done, and I'm liking it so far.  It is simple enough not to bore, and it gives readers a good idea if they'll want to pick up the book or not.  Of course, my goal is to get people to read it, but I'm not hopeful enough to think someone is going to pick this up as a light summer read.  (That's why the Twilight series exists.)  But if I can get just one person to give it a shot, then I've done my job.

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